Subsurface Cl-bearing salts as potential contributors to recurring slope lineae (RSL) on Mars

1,7Alian Wang,2Z.C.Ling,1,7Y.C.Yan,3Alfred S.McEwen,4Michael T.Mellon,5Michael D.Smith,1,7Bradley L.Jolliff,6JamesHead
Icarus (in Press) Link to Article [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2019.06.024]
1Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA
2Shandong Provincial Key Laboratory of Optical Astronomy and Solar-Terrestrial Environment, Institute of Space Sciences, Shandong University, Weihai 264209, China
3Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
4Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14850, USA
5NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771, USA
6Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, RI 02912, USA
7The McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA
Copyright Elsevier

We report laboratory experimental results that support a brine-related hypothesis for the recurring slope lineae (RSL) on Mars in which the subsurface Cl-salts, i.e., hydrous chlorides and oxychlorine salts (HyCOS) are the potential source materials. Our experiments revealed that within the observed RSL temperature window TRSL (250–300 K), the deliquescence of HyCOS could occur in relative humidity ranges (RH ≥ 22%–46%) much lower than those for hydrous (Mg, Fe)-sulfates (RH ≥ 75%–96%). In addition, we demonstrated that the RH values kept by common HyCOS and hydrous sulfates in enclosures have a general trend as RHsulfates > RHperchlorates > RHchlorides (with same type of cation) in wide T range. It means that the required RH range for a Cl-bearing salt to deliquescence can be satisfied by a co-existing salt of different type, e.g., in the subsurface layers of mixed salts on Mars. Furthermore, we found a strong temperature dependence of the deliquescence rates for all tested HyCOS, e.g., a duration of 1–5 sols for all HyCOS at the high end (300 K) of TRSL, and of 20–70 sols for all tested HyCOS (except NaClO4·H2O) at the low end (250 K) of TRSL, which is consistent with the observed seasonal behavior of RSL on Mars. From a mass-balance point of view, the currently observed evidences on Mars do not support a fully-brine-wetted track model, thus we suggest a brine-triggered granular-flow model for the most RSL. Considering the recurrence of RSL in consecutive martian years, our experimental results support the rehydration of remnant HyCOS layers during a martian cold season through H2O vapor-to-salt direct interaction. We found that the evidences of HyCOS rehydration under Mars relevant P-T-RH conditions are detectable in a few minutes by in situ Raman spectroscopy. This rehydration would facilitate the recharge of H2O back into subsurface HyCOS, which could serve as the source material to trigger RSL in a subsequent warm season. The major limiting factor for this rehydration is the H2O supply, i.e., the H2O vapor density carried by current Mars atmospheric circulation and the diffusion rate of H2O vapor into the salt-rich subsurface in a cold season. In a worst-case scenario, these H2O supplies can support a maximum increase of hydration degrees of two for totally dehydrated HyCOS, whereas the full rehydration of subsurface HyCOS layers can be easily reached during a >30° obliquity period that has H2O vapor density 10× to 20× times the value of current obliquity. Overall, our results imply the existence of a large amount of Cl-bearing salts in the subsurface at RSL sites.

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